Overwhelming UN vote says US blockade of Cuba needs to end

A man walks on a sidewalk in Havana October 27, 2015. The sign on the wall reads, "Down with the Blockade", in reference to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba © Enrique De La Osa
The UN General Assembly has voted 191-2 to condemn the US blockade of Cuba, with only the US and Israel opposed.

Washington voted against the resolution despite the recent renewal of diplomatic ties with Cuba and the push by President Barack Obama to lift the embargo first introduced a year before he was born.

The draft resolution urges all member states to “refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures” that furthering the blockade, and those that have such laws to “repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible.” It specifically cites the 1996 Helms-Burton Act as one such law, which affects the sovereignty of other states and legitimate interests of their citizens, as well as the freedom of trade and navigation. Helms-Burton penalizes foreign companies for doing business with Cuba.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (C) is greeted after speaking before a United Nations General Assembly vote addressing the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the U.S. against Cuba at the United Nations headquarters in New York, October 27, 2015 © Lucas Jackson

Of the 193 member states at the General Assembly, 191 voted in support of the resolution, titled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”

Washington imposed the blockade in 1960, after Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista, a US-backed dictator. It has been in place for over 55 years.

“The time has come to put an end to this unilateral embargo," said the Paraguayan representative, speaking on behalf of Mercosur, a free trade block of seven South American nations.

“The continuation of the embargo is unjustifiable, and counters Cuba’s effort to achieve sustainable development,” said the Iranian representative, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.

 President Obama announced in December 2014 that he would be changing the US policy on Cuba, arguing that the blockade had not produced the desired effect. In May 2015, the US removed Cuba from the list of countries accused of sponsoring terrorism. The Cuban embassy in Washington reopened in July, and the US embassy in Havana followed suit in August.